Ever objective, pragmatic, Abrahão Koogan appeared to pleased when I told him I intended to write a biography of his most famous author: “It’ll be a pleasure to talk to you, Zweig has been rather forgotten lately.”
I was in rather a hurry: in three years it would be the centenary of his birth (1981), and I hadn’t yet fully digested the magnificent book by Donald Prater, European of Yesterday, a biography of Stefan Zweig, a valuable paradigm of all later biographies. I re-read and annotated the first edition of Zweig’s complete works, published by Koogan in the 1930’s and 40’s.
Editora Guanabara had long ceased to be the magnificent store on Rua do Ouvidor which Zweig visited so many times, but now installed in an old building not very far away, on Travessa do Ouvidor. Koogan received me in his office with several of those old cardboard boxes used for filing archives.
Even before speaking he was handing me bundles of papers, cuttings, photos, a small can of 8mm film and the “Telephone Book”, its covers imitating brown leather, spiral binding and in reasonable condition: “this should interest you, the Englishman didn’t want it.”
The Englishman, Donald Prater, had some years before spent a few days in Rio interviewing Koogan for his pioneering work. A meticulous researcher, he didn’t interest himself in this address book and spent several years delving into the subject’s vast correspondence, a colossal task, clearly far more relevant. From my time as a reporter I’d learned that address books can be essential in reconstructing lives. Koogan noticed my interest: “I’ll photocopy it for you.”
I have it to this day. It must have been of great use to Zweig. Almost 40 years later it urged me to do field work in the streets and also to turn to the telephone. Through it and telephone books I was able to recompose numerous moments from that life. Alexander Graham Bell never thought of these attributes for his invention, but the telephone book allowed me to understand the interaction between journalism and biography which the philologist and literary critic Antonio Houaiss (a friend and collaborator of Koogan) had already pointed out when I asked him to unravel the secrets of good biography. “Don’t worry yourself,” he advised, “do journalism.”
The “Telephone Book” must have been a sort of survival guide in exile, a switchboard for the widely scattered. If transatlantic letters had travelled in the same rhythm as the inter-European correspondence before 1939, the solitude of Petrópolis might not have been felt and the sense of abandonment been less profound.
The first notes for the autobiography are close to the first records in this “Telephone-Book”. Brothers but not twins, both were begun in 1940 and inseminated by the same oppression and sensation of irreparable loss. With different bases, technologies and uses, they are remnants of the shipwreck of the “world of yesterday”.
Baggage lost and found.